A century of culture
Delhi Muslim Hotel in the heart of Anarkali had served many notable men of the subcontinent. Now it lies deserted in the wake of increased commercialisation
By Rabia Ezdi
Delhi Muslim Hotel is one of Anarkali bazaar’s best kept secret. Hiding behind a blur of signboards, service infrastructure and traffic meltdown, the ‘hotel’ is visible from the main street only if one makes a conscious effort at finding it. Upon entering the hidden enclosure, the plaque reading ‘Delhi Muslim Hotel’ seems almost surreal. At once, the ambience shifts and one has entered a serene hideaway almost completely divorced from the urban jungle. "This is the changa-manga of Anarkali", jokes Syed Ahmed Shah, the recently retired khateeb of the hotel mosque.
The hotel originally a serai or inn dates back to the early twentieth century. ‘Serai Mohammad Shafi’ as it was originally named, was located in close proximity to the walled city’s Lohari Gate. A number of serais are found to the south of the walled city. The traders, who were not able to enter the city after its gates were closed at night, found cheap lodging there. In 1929, Mohammad Shafi turned the serai into ‘Delhi Muslim Hotel’.
"Delhi was the capital and one of the educational and literary centres of the subcontinent before partition. My late father was closely associated with the Delhi notables so the Delhi name was used. Delhi Muslim Hotel has been here for a hundred years spanning three generations. Well known people, including Quaid-e-Azam, have also stayed here," claims Abdullah Shah, one of the surviving sons of Mohammad Shafi, who has inherited half of the premises from his father while the other half of the property belongs to his step siblings. Most historic cities originated from an older nucleus where urban activity had been concentrated. This is the walled city and the areas that developed around it in the 19th and early 20th century that formed today’s Lahore. This is the nucleus where trade, administration, manufacturing, culture and residence have co-existed and thrived for well over several centuries.
While ‘Purani Anarkali’ street was the original location of the British army’s barracks, its northward extension connecting to the walled city was known as Lakhpat bazaar. Around the mid-nineteenth century, Lakhpat bazaar was developed into Anarkali bazaar, with shops and residential clusters. It was here that Serai Shafi Mohammad was located. At partition, the hotel premises were taken over by the Muslim Auqaf, to whom the property’s heirs now pay a monthly rent. In 1977, many of the hotel’s original built structures were demolished and replaced with new construction. Some surviving structures dating from the early British period such as a mosque, a printing press, and two of the original guestrooms are still there.
"Delhi Muslim Hotel’s history can be seen in two or three parts," explains writer Jamshed Imam. "One is pre-partition when it was a centre of political activity especially for the Muslim League quaideen. Whenever a political jalsa or meeting would take place in Lahore, these important political figures used to stay at Delhi Muslim Hotel. The second phase was when the area became a posh residential locality and the hotel also became a symbol of social status. And thirdly I would say it was in the 1960s that Delhi Muslim Hotel reached its peak when it began to act like a centre of culture and fine arts because of Maharaj Kathak sahib who had a permanent room here. All activity would revolve around his multi-shaded personality, and many of the big names you hear today like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the Sabri brothers, Naheed Siddiqui, Aziz Mian qawwal, were his students here. Discussions would take place for hours and covered all sorts of topics and anyone could join in".
Jamshed sahib and his counterparts, all long-time residents of the Anarkali-walled city area, have been meeting at Azeem Khan’s ‘Metal Shop’ in Anarkali bazaar every evening for several decades. "We also used to go to Delhi Muslim Hotel and spend time with Maharaj Kathak", adds Azeem Khan. "Filmi units used to come and stay at Nizam hotel too which was a serai opposite Delhi Muslim Hotel". It was with such events and developments that platforms such as Delhi Muslim Hotel evolved into pulsating socio-political hubs of Lahore, owing both to their location within the inner city core, as well as the politico-literary citizenry that regularly frequented them.
Faisal Sajjad, a college teacher in his mid-thirties, remembers coming here with his father as a 7-8 year old child. "My father used to be a supporter of the leftist movement. And he would often come here and sit with his friends and contemporaries for hours, over never-ending cups of tea. My most lasting perception of the place is that time seemed to move extremely slowly here."
While once Delhi Muslim Hotel acted as an informal socio-political institution, today it is lost in the fast-paced cloud of Anarkali bazaar. "We had a total of 35 staff, now we just have three. We don’t need more because nobody comes here. Foreign tourists also used to stay here, but these weren’t many. Only the name of Delhi Muslim Hotel is now left", laments Abdullah Shah. "It does not run as a hotel because people have other hotels to go to now. And there is such a severe problem of electricity and water these days which also adds to the cost of running the hotel, and we cannot afford a generator."
The fate of the hotel is uncertain to Abdullah Shah and many others who have valued it as one of Lahore’s prized assets. "We value this as a very important place in the history of Pakistan, which is why we have not left it yet. But we are very perplexed as to what we should do with it now. Sometimes I think we should turn it into a hospital; at other times I consider making it a students’ hostel as there are so many educational institutions around and students would need affordable accommodation." Jamshed Imam says, "Places develop importance because of people. It is very sad that we do not value such places any more. We keep hearing that it may be converted into a parking plaza or a commercial building. I think Delhi Muslim Hotel has been so important in the cultural life of Lahore and it should be converted into an art and music academy. Mahraj Kathak’s room should be preserved and singers and artists from all over the world should be invited to stay in the hotel".
It is widely agreed that Lahore’s inner city is undergoing ‘decay’. And although some of the symptoms of Delhi Muslim Hotel’s decline are visible, the key to understanding its causes lies in viewing the hotel as a part of the larger organism of the inner city. In functional terms, Anarkali bazaar has become an extended part of the neighbouring wholesale market of the walled city Circular Road. As a consequence, much of the residential space in the area is rented out in the form of warehouses for the neighbouring market, causing the infiltration of commercial traffic. Delhi Muslim Hotel falls in the heart of this commercial congestion. This ‘degeneration’ and apparent ‘chaos’ in the hotel’s immediate surrounding, has caused a direct decline in demand for the hotel, leading to its neglect.
In the words of American writer Kevin Lynch, "the city is a fact in time, and prosperity, decline and regeneration are natural processes in all living environments and agglomerations". Undoubtedly, degeneration is a direct outcome of the social and economic pressures placed on inner city areas like Anarkali. The question then arises: Does Delhi Muslim Hotel has a future in this sea of urban change and commercial outgrowth? And can these layers of activity co-exist within each other’s folds?
Most importantly, the signs that there still exists a need for such platforms are loud and clear. Jamshed sahib’s group of friends is one example where people are able to simply come together as equals and express themselves, shed their fears, vent their angers and go back feeling like an essential thread in the web of a larger human family. Many more examples are found across Lahore where citizens are in search of such platforms, especially in trying political and economic times like the present. It is also evident that the real treasures of cultural heritage are not only a city’s buildings and tangible assets, but just as importantly its cultural patterns and social associations. Places such as Delhi Muslim Hotel act as the glue of society, and enable citizens to strengthen their relationships not only with each other, but also with the city’s treasures its chowks, trees, neighbourhoods, streets, and tea houses.
The key to addressing the decline of Delhi Muslim Hotel and planning for its renewal lies in upgrading the larger Anarkali area, as well as a decision about the hotel’s future use. Also, a greater hope for the revival of the hotel as a socio-cultural platform lies in the fact that unlike Pak Tea House which had private ownership and gave way to market forces, Delhi Muslim Hotel is government property hence its conservation bears not only a cultural but also an ethical dimension.
Posted by Shiraz_Hassan on 2012-07-19 07:42:07
Tagged: , Delhi , Muslim , Hotel , Anarkali , Lahore , Culture , Heritage , India , Pakistan